Often-Unreported MRI Finding May Indicate Neurodevelopmental Impairment in Premature Infants

June 28, 2016
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Moderate-to-severe gyral maturation delay emerged as a significant predictor of overall neurodevelopmental delay in premature infants with extremely low birth weights

Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain is increasingly used to predict neurodevelopmental outcomes in premature infants, but the existing systems of scoring those MRIs rely heavily on expert opinion. A recent study led by clinician-researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital has explored a more objective system for scoring MRIs – and in the process found that an often unreported abnormality of the brain’s gray matter can indicate future impairment.

The abnormality, moderate-to-severe gyral maturational delay, emerged as the only significant predictor of overall neurodevelopmental impairment in the study group of premature infants with extremely low birth weights. Gyral maturation delay also predicted cognitive delay; a combined outcome of cognitive delay and death; and a combined outcome of neurodevelopmental delay and death.

In contrast, when researchers used a more opinion-based scoring system, gray matter scores did not show a significant association with neurodevelopmental impairment.

“We let the data drive our model,” said Laurel Slaughter, MD, a neurologist at Nationwide Children’s and lead author of the study. “We measured numerous individual imaging factors and their correlation to outcomes, instead of deciding ahead of time what we believed would be important. There is still some subjectivity, and neuroradiologists are going to have slightly different readings or interpretations. But our model is more objective.”

Figure. Cerebral maturation stages G2, G3, G4. Axial T2WI. (A) G2: The frontal and occipital cortex has similar number of convolutions. The frontal sulci are still quite shallow (arrow). The internal surface of the insula is more convoluted. (B) G3: The frontal and occipital cortex is folded and rich in sulci. Frontal sulci are obvious along the interhemispheric fissure. Occipital white matter is separated into strands by deeper sulci. Insula more convoluted and infolded(arrow). (C) G4: Frontal and occipital white matter separated into strands by deeper sulci. Insula completely infolded. Secondary gyripresent- transverse and inferior temporal.  Anterior (a) and posterior (p) orbital gyri.  White matter still distinguishable from gray matter on T1.


The study, published online in Neonatology, involved 122 infants born premature with a weight equal to 1 kilogram. Brain MRIs were performed at term-equivalent age at Memorial Hermann Children’s Hospital, Houston, under the supervision of Nehal Parikh, DO, who is the study’s senior author.

At 18 to 24 months of age, the infants were tested using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development III, and all had a standard neurologic examination for the presence of cerebral palsy.

Along with the findings involving gyral maturational delay, researchers discovered that diffuse cystic abnormality was a significant predictor of cerebral palsy with the data-driven scoring system. This result is consistent with several previous studies.

Both gyral maturational delay and diffuse cystic abnormality exhibited high specificity (95% to 99%) but comparatively low sensitivity (30% to 67%) in predicting impairments.

“We can’t predict with certainty that these babies are going to do well just because the MRIs looked good,” said Dr. Slaughter, who is also an assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “These are still significantly premature babies that we need to monitor.”

According to Dr. Slaughter, the study may suggest to physicians that if these predictors are found, therapies should begin at the earliest moment that impairments become obvious. This research also focuses more attention on the brain’s gray matter, while previous studies have focused on white matter.

“A lot of counseling to families regarding outcomes is based on white matter,” she says. “Our findings show that you can’t just rely on white matter as a predictor.”


Slaughter L, Bonfante-Mejia E, Hintz S, Dvorchik I, Parikh NA. Early conventional MRI for prediction of neurodevelopmental impairment in extremely-low-birth-weight infants Neonatology.  2016 Apr 7. [Epub ahead of print]